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American College of Radiology CEO Earns Citizen Award

The state of North Carolina has inducted American College of Radiology (ACR) Chief Executive Officer, William T. Thorwarth, Jr., MD, FACR, into the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. One of the state's highest citizen honors, it recognizes those who provide exemplary service to North Carolina and their communities.

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William T. Thorwarth, Jr., MD, FACR

William T. Thorwarth, Jr., MD, FACR

The award honors Thorwarth for his dedication to patients, teaching future physicians, and improving health care.

Prior to coming to ACR, Thorwarth was a practicing radiologist for nearly 30 years at Catawba Radiological Associates in Hickory, N.C. He began his career as an emergency room physician in New Bern, N.C., and later served as Chair of the Frye Regional Medical Center Board of Directors in Hickory, N.C.

Thorwarth has previously served as ACR President, Chair of the ACR Economics Commission, and member of the ACR Board of Chancellors. The William T. Thorwarth, Jr., MD, Award, honors ACR members and staff who demonstrate excellence in economics and health policy. He also chaired the American Medical Association (AMA) Current Procedural Terminology Editorial Panel and served as the college's advisor to the AMA Relative Value Update Committee.

“Dr. Thorwarth is an outstanding and widely respected physician and leader. I have worked closely with him for many years. He cares deeply about patients, about improving medicine, and making health care better. The state of North Carolina could not have picked a better person to honor,” said James A. Brink, MD, FACR, Chair of the ACR Board of Chancellors.

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Director of the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine Appointed

Olivier Elemento, PhD, a renowned computational biologist and leader in the field of computational genomics and biomedicine, has been named Director of the Caryl and Israel Englander Institute for Precision Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. Elemento will also lead joint precision medicine efforts at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Olivier Elemento, PhD

Olivier Elemento, PhD

Elemento will succeed Mark Rubin, MD, the Englander Institute's founding Director. Under Elemento's leadership, the institute's investigators will expand their research focus, taking the precision medicine methodology they pioneered in cancer and applying it to other areas of research, including cardiovascular disease, lung disease, diabetes, and neurological disease.

A core member of the institute since its inception, Elemento most recently served as Director of the Computational Biology Group, which uses data analytics and artificial intelligence to analyze and interpret cancer genomes, identify mutations that drive disease in each patient, optimize treatment recommendations, and report results to clinicians.

“For me, this role is an opportunity to make an impact on research and health care,” said Elemento, the Walter B. Wriston Research Scholar and Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics, as well as Computational Genomics in Computational Biomedicine, at Weill Cornell Medicine. “I see a lot of potential in using precision medicine to target a variety of diseases, so it's very exciting to be able to help shape how these approaches will improve patient care.”

Founded in 2015, the Englander Institute's primary mission is to uncover the molecular roots of disease using genomic sequencing, informatics, and other technologies. This information is then used to personalize disease treatment and prevention. To achieve this, computational biologists analyze tumor sequencing data and summarize the key clinical and genetic findings, which a team of interdisciplinary specialists, including pathologists, molecular biologists, oncologists, and basic scientists use to determine the best treatment options for each patient.

Rubin and Elemento led the institute's efforts in developing the first New York State-approved whole exome sequencing test for oncology, which scans 21,000 genes in both healthy and malignant cells to detect genetic mutations that drive cancer. The data from this test, called EXaCT-1, is then used to search for new treatment options and clinical trials that may fight the patient's disease.

To strengthen precision medicine's clinical applications and impact, the institute, under Elemento's direction, will work to produce the next generation of genomic sequencing tests. This process is already under way with the development of EXaCT-2, which will improve upon the original iteration by increasing its capabilities to detect rarer mutations in patients.

The institute will also increasingly move toward using whole genome sequencing, which enables scientists to identify all of the mutations in a patient, including those outside of genes involved in switching genes on and off that are emerging as increasingly relevant in a host of diseases.

The group will work to reduce the time the exome sequencing procedure takes—from testing to treatment, Elemento said. In addition, his team will grow a robust database of genomic information that can be analyzed and shared, with the goal of building a broad network that would provide researchers and clinicians across multiple institutions access to expanded sample sizes and information about cancer treatment options for their patients.

Elemento will emphasize collaboration, ensuring that the institute can provide genomics support to a range of clinical programs at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, such as the Weill Cornell Leukemia Program and the Weill Cornell Breast Center, and Weill Cornell research hubs including the Cardiovascular Research Institute and the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children's Health. “We want to be as inclusive as possible, working with fellow investigators who are interested in applying a precision medicine approach to their areas of research and medicine,” Elemento said.

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Winship Names Associate Director for Basic Research

Adam Marcus, PhD, Director of Emory University's Integrated Cellular Imaging Shared Resource, is new Associate Director for Basic Research and Shared Resources, Winship Cancer Institute, Atlanta.

Adam Marcus, PhD

Adam Marcus, PhD

In this role, he will provide oversight and direction for the development and growth of Winship's shared resources and its basic scientific activities across all of Winship's four research programs. Paul Doetsch, PhD, has served in the position since 1999 and has been designated to become the Deputy Scientific Director in the Intramural Research Division of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

“Paul has been the consummate associate director for Winship, with amazing commitment to all the facets of this responsibility. Since joining Emory in 1985, Paul has been instrumental in Winship's extraordinary growth over the years,” said Walter J. Curran, Jr., MD, Winship's Executive Director.

Marcus, Associate Professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and a member of Winship's Cancer Cell Biology program, is a funded investigator with several NCI grants supporting a diverse portfolio of research. He is a national leader in understanding how cancer cells invade and metastasize and how to apply this knowledge in developing new therapeutic strategies.

“Since joining Winship in 2006, Adam has established himself as a leader in several research realms, including how a common mutation of the LKB1 protein in lung cancer is associated with a high metastatic potential and how this knowledge can be utilized to develop new therapeutic strategies,” said Curran. “Adam has been an outstanding leader of the Integrated Cellular Imaging Shared Resource, and we all know he will be an outstanding associate director for Winship.”

Marcus is leading the effort to stimulate critical thinking and enthusiasm for sciences in children, kindergarten through 12th grade, in the state of Georgia. Along with Theresa Gillespie, he received a $1.2 million R25 Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the NIH in 2016. The grant led to the creation of the Center for Advancing Health and Diversity through Citizen Science where he serves as Co-Director.

Marcus has served as a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Scholar, American Cancer Society Research Scholar award recipient, and a TEDx speaker. He was honored with a National Lung Cancer Partnership Career Development Award, as well as a Fund for Innovative Teaching Award. Last year, he was named to the Atlanta Business Chronicle's 40 under 40 list, recognizing young women and men who are “metro area movers and shakers.”

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ACR Center for Research & Innovation Names Chief Science Officer

The American College of Radiology (ACR) announced the appointment of Etta D. Pisano, MD, as Chief Science Officer of the ACR Center for Research and Innovation.

Etta D. Pisano, MD

Etta D. Pisano, MD

Pisano will identify scientific research opportunities that will lead to advances in the practice of radiology and will champion the expansion of ACR's imaging research portfolio through collaboration with academic researchers, national and international commercial sponsors, the federal government, and ACR leadership.

Pisano's career has reflected her commitment to excellence and led to prestigious academic appointments, including Founding Chief of Breast Imaging in the Department of Radiology and Vice Dean for Academic Affairs at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Dean of the Medical School at the University of South Carolina, and most recently Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Radiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Professor at Harvard.

In parallel, she has led landmark clinical research trials while serving as the Chair of the ACRIN Breast Imaging Committee (1998-2008) and principal investigator of the Digital Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (DMIST), which has accrued 49,528 women in a study comparing digital to film mammography, the results of which were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005 and changed the breast cancer screening guidelines and reimbursement.

Pisano continues to add to her legacy in the area of breast imaging and is now the principal investigator of the Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST). Tripling DMIST's accrual, this trial of nearly 165,000 healthy women is open to accrual in the U.S. and Canada. TMIST is the first breast cancer screening trial since the 1980s and aims to prove the value of screening in the modern era of tomosynthesis. TMIST will create the world's largest aggregation of data, images, and biospecimens arising from a clinical research trial.

Pisano is a Past President of the Association of University Radiologists and American Association for Women Radiologists, a Gold Medalist of the American Roentgen Ray Society and Radiological Society of North America, and recipient of the Earl B. Higgins Achievement in Diversity Award at the Medical University of South Carolina, and she received honors for her faculty diversity work at the University of North Carolina.

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ASTRO Awards Early-Career Research Grants to Physician-Scientists

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) awarded $275,000 in research grants to four early-career scientists as part of the society's efforts to retain and foster the intellectual research talent currently entering the field of radiation oncology.

For 2017, the Research Grants committee selected one Junior Faculty Award and three Resident Seed Grant recipients. All winners were recognized at ASTRO's 59th Annual Meeting, held Sept. 24-27 in San Diego.

“ASTRO may not conduct its own scientific research—but we aim to create an environment where researchers are able to succeed. These grants recognize the innovative work being done by those in our field, and they also identify and encourage early-career researchers,” said ASTRO Chair David C. Beyer, MD, FASTRO. “By supporting these researchers, our specialty will benefit from their discoveries, which, in turn, will eventually lead to better outcomes for our patients—the ultimate goal we physicians strive for every day.”

The ASTRO Junior Faculty Career Research Training Award (JFA) gives early career physicians and researchers the opportunity to develop careers and focus on research relevant to radiation oncology, biology, or physics. Recipients must be board-eligible physicians, physicists in radiation oncology, or radiobiologists within the first 3 years of their junior faculty appointment. One junior faculty member was selected for this award, which provides $100,000 annually for 2 years.

The 2017 JFA grant recipient is Erina Vlashi, PhD, from the University of California, Los Angeles. Vlashi is interested in how ionizing radiation induces the reprogramming of breast cancer cells into breast cancer-initiating or stem cells that can lead to increased tumor growth and treatment resistance. Understanding the steps in how radiation alters the metabolic state of breast tumor cells can provide key insights into how these cells will respond to subsequent ionizing radiation exposure.

Erina Vlashi, PhD

Erina Vlashi, PhD

The ASTRO Resident/Fellows in Radiation Oncology Research Seed Award supports residents or fellows who are planning a career in basic science or clinical research in radiation oncology. Three researchers were selected for this award, which provides $25,000 per recipient for 1 year:

  • Devarati Mitra, MD, PhD, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, will investigate how administration of hypofractionated radiation modulates the immune response in head and neck carcinoma. He will explore if such modulation can increase the efficacy of immune checkpoint inhibitors when combined with radiation.
  • Shushan Rana, MD, from the Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, will investigate how microRNA, specifically miR-15a, affects endothelial radiosensitivity through regulation of acid sphingomyelinase ceramide-induced apoptosis, a pathway which is preferentially induced at higher doses of radiation. He hopes to ultimately prevent the development of immune cell anergy and/or exhaustion to improve tumor responses to anti-tumor treatment.
  • Ye Yuan, MD, from the University of California, Los Angeles, has an interest in how tumors evade the immune system through upregulation of PD-L1 and PD-L2 expression. Mediators that inhibit gene expression, including micro-RNA molecules, can be activated by radiation treatment. How radiation activates miR-34 that subsequently binds to and downregulates PD-L1 and PD-L2 expression still remains unclear and may be an effective way to stimulate the immune response to kill tumor cells.
Devarati Mitra, MD, PhD

Devarati Mitra, MD, PhD

Shushan Rana, MD

Shushan Rana, MD

Ye Yuan, MD

Ye Yuan, MD

All awardees must submit a report to ASTRO at the midterm and the conclusion of their research, and they are strongly encouraged to submit their study as an abstract to a subsequent ASTRO Annual Meeting. The grant winners are selected by ASTRO's Research Grants Evaluation Committee within the Science Council and approved by the ASTRO Board of Directors.

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Roswell Park Receives Grants for Research on New Treatments & Supportive Care

Researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, N.Y., recently received more than $6.8 million in grant awards to support six specific projects aimed at improving supportive care and developing new immunotherapy and targeted therapy treatment approaches.

The largest individual award, a $3.6 million grant from the NCI, was awarded to Elizabeth Gage-Bouchard, MA, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control. This R01 research project grant funds a 5-year investigation into how a family's social network influences parents' ability to cope with their child's cancer diagnosis and treatment. Parents of children with cancer face significant risk for anxiety, depression, distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder during and after their child's treatment.

Elizabeth Gage-Bouchard, MA, PhD

Elizabeth Gage-Bouchard, MA, PhD

“We're looking at how assistance from friends and family members helps parents manage a child's cancer diagnosis, and what types of support help them the most,” said Gage-Bouchard. “The type of help they get from their networks and social contacts can shape their ability to be a caregiver. We want to look at what works so we can help other parents to manage these challenges as effectively as possible.”

Another grant also funds research into how outside factors may impact cancer patients. James Mohler, MD, Associate Director and Senior Vice President of Translational Research, received a 3-year, $590,506 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense for his investigation into whether financial distress causes patients with prostate cancer to alter or delay treatment that may compromise survival. The project aims to assess whether this effect differs among men by race and/or socioeconomic status.

James Mohler, MD

James Mohler, MD

Other recent grantees and their projects, include:

  • Jianmin Zhang, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics, received $2 million from the NCI for a 5-year R01 project exploring an underlying mechanism of how breast cancers begin and progress, focusing on the role of the TAZ protein in regulating and suppressing breast cancer stem cells.
  • Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD, Professor of Oncology and Member of the Department of Cell Stress Biology, received $417,840 from the NCI for a 3-year project to develop a new anticancer drug for malignant melanoma that target the oncoprotein MYC.
  • Joseph Barbi, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology, received two recent grants to support his research into a newly identified molecule called neuritin and how it may suppress the immune system, allowing cancer to develop and grow. Barbi received a 2-year career development award of $100,000 from the Melanoma Research Foundation to explore how targeting neuritin may improve anti-melanoma immunotherapy. He also received a 1-year, $54,125 grant from the Phi Beta Psi sorority supporting his studies of how neuritin affects the immune response to ovarian tumors.
  • Elizabeth Repasky, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Immunology, received a 1-year, $50,000 grant from The Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester for her research designed to identify mechanisms by which chronic stress can lead to diminished immune protection against breast cancer tumors and metastasis.
Jianmin Zhang, PhD

Jianmin Zhang, PhD

Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD

Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD

Joseph Barbi, PhD

Joseph Barbi, PhD

Elizabeth Repasky, PhD

Elizabeth Repasky, PhD

Another recent grant, awarded to Sandra Gollnick, PhD, Director of the Photodynamic Therapy Center, Member of the Department of Cell Stress Biology, and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Immunology, will enable the creation of an international registry compiling information about patients' responses to photodynamic therapy (PDT), an approach developed at Roswell Park that is now used in the treatment of many lung, esophageal, head and neck, pancreatic, and mesothelioma tumors. This work will support the development of a searchable, open-access repository for reporting PDT treatment outcomes—the first resource of its kind.

Sandra Gollnick, PhD

Sandra Gollnick, PhD

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Fox Chase to Establish Pancreatic Cancer Institute

Philadelphia philanthropist Concetta “Chet” Greenberg has made a transformational gift to create The Marvin and Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia. This multimillion-dollar commitment will significantly accelerate the pace of pancreatic cancer research, and its impact will be felt regionally and nationally. It is the largest single gift in Fox Chase's 113-year history.

The new institute will be co-chaired by Igor Astsaturov, MD, PhD, and Edna Cukierman, PhD, researchers whose shared goal is to achieve breakthroughs in both early detection and treatment options. Their research involves seeking new therapy targets and markers for early detection, and investigating the impact of diet and environment on pancreatic cancer development and progression. Astsaturov is a clinician/researcher who specializes in treating pancreatic cancer and studies pancreatic cancer metabolism, while Cukierman is a leading researcher of the tumor microenvironment.

“Our emphasis is on seeking ways to deactivate the cancer-promoting behavior of the pancreatic tumor microenvironment, or ideally to make it work against the tumor,” said Cukierman.

Among many initiatives, the Greenberg Institute will support new research projects led by multiple principal investigators. These collaborative projects will center on early detection, altering the communication between the tumor and its microenvironment, obstructing microenvironmental nutritional support, and awakening the natural immune system that the tumor microenvironment suppresses. Efforts will include testing the use of microenvironmental biomarkers, incorporating novel behavioral interventions, and developing a pipeline for new therapeutics. There will also be a focus on funding promising postdoctoral fellows and training new researchers, as well as establishing consortium-like national and international collaborations.

“Pancreatic cancer is expected to become the second-leading cause of cancer death by 2030, and the need for better detection and treatment strategies is urgent,” said Richard I. Fisher, MD, President and CEO of Fox Chase. “We are sincerely grateful to Chet for making it possible for our faculty to ask new questions, explore what is possible, and push us further.”

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ASCO to Recognize Palliative Care Expert

ASCO will honor Anthony L. Back, MD, medical oncologist and palliative care expert, with its inaugural Walther Cancer Foundation Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Endowed Award and Lecture. Back will accept his award and present a keynote lecture at the Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium in San Diego, Calif.

Anthony L. Back, MD

Anthony L. Back, MD

“This award celebrates the growing recognition and integration of palliative and supportive care in cancer care, and the critical role of communication between patients and families and their cancer clinicians,” remarked Back, Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, affiliate member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and 24-year member of ASCO. “I am truly grateful to the Walther Cancer Foundation for recognizing the work that I and many other cancer clinicians and researchers do to bring together the new technologies in cancer treatment with person-centered, values-driven care—to create the kind of care that patients and families want and deserve.”

Endowed by the Walther Cancer Foundation, this award and lecture was established to recognize a distinguished lecturer and leader with multiple significant and enduring contributions to palliative and supportive care in oncology through the prevention, assessment, and management of cancer- and treatment-related suffering.

The Walther Cancer Foundation is a private foundation that supports and promotes interdisciplinary and inter-institutional bench and clinical cancer research, with a special commitment to supportive oncology. The foundation's goal is to help build cancer programs that provide tangible benefits by expanding the world's scientific knowledge, by saving lives, and by offering hope to patients and their families.

Back was a 2013-2014 Contemplative Studies Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute, a member of ASCO's Patient-Physician Communication Consensus Panel, and a faculty scholar for the Open Society Institute's Project on Death in America. His leadership has been recognized by awards including the American Cancer Society Pathfinder in Palliative Care Award, the Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine National Leadership Award, and numerous mentions as a Seattle Top Doctor.

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AACR Awards Distinguished Lecture on Cancer Health Disparities

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has awarded Julie R. Palmer, ScD, the AACR Distinguished Lecture on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities. Palmer is being recognized for her work as a cancer epidemiologist who has devoted most of her career to investigating the etiology of cancer in African-American women.

Julie R. Palmer, SCD

Julie R. Palmer, SCD

She was honored at the 10th AACR Conference on The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved, held Sept. 25-28, in Atlanta.

Palmer is a Professor of Epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, Associate Director of the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University, and Associate Director for Population Sciences for the Boston University – Boston Medical Center Cancer Center.

Now in its eighth year, the lectureship recognizes an investigator whose novel and significant work has had or may have far-reaching impact on the etiology, detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of cancer health disparities.

Palmer's major research interest is the etiology of breast cancer, with a particular focus on African-American women. She was instrumental in designing and implementing the Black Women's Health Study, a cohort study of 59,000 women, and has served as co-investigator of the study since its inception in 1995.

A major goal of Palmer's research program is reduction of breast cancer mortality in young African-American women by identification of modifiable factors that influence development of hormone receptor (HR)-negative breast cancer.

Palmer's research has provided convincing evidence that breastfeeding reduces risk of HR-negative breast cancer and that, in the absence of breastfeeding, higher parity is associated with an increased risk of receptor negative disease. She is now assessing the possible interaction of those factors with genetic variants in pathways related to inflammation and hormone metabolism.

Palmer has also led work to develop an effective risk prediction tool for breast cancer in African-American women. Her current approach involves developing subtype-specific risk models, which take into account the recently recognized differential associations for estrogen receptor (ER)-positive and ER-negative breast cancer as well as established differences in age-incidence pattern.

Palmer serves on the Steering Committee of the NCI Cohort Consortium. She has recently completed a 4-year term on the NIH Cancer, Cardiovascular, and Sleep Epidemiology Study Section, including 2 years as Chair. She serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the NIEHS Sister Study, the University of Pittsburgh Shanghai and Singapore Cohort Studies, and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation.

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Send information on career developments and cancer center news for this column to pam.tarapchak@wolterskluwer.com

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